30 x 30 From Abstract to the Real World: II. The Congressional Resolution, Definitions and Chunkification in Mapping

It seems like from this IUCN map that the US already has 37% of the marine area protected. Maybe someone can explain. Unfortunately the banner is over the identification of the data as from the US.

The resolution was introduced in the Senate by Senators Bennet of Colorado and Udall of New Mexico. Rumor has it that Udall is being considered for Secretary of the Interior in the Biden Administration. In this piece in High Country News, he wrote that 30 by 30 is only a waystation to 50 by 50 (and one wonders, 100 by 2100?).

That’s why I’ve introduced the Thirty by Thirty Resolution to Save Nature — a resolution to set a national goal of protecting 30% of our lands and waters by 2030, with half protected by mid-century. The resolution reflects the will of the scientific community, including and scientists like E.O. Wilson, who say that we need to protect half the planet to save the whole.

it would be interesting if we treated all scientific communities that way. For example, if epidemiologists say we need $3 billion to protect us from the next epidemic, we would need to do “their will.” Or fire scientists (or historic vegetation ecologists) say we need to burn 50% more acres. Seems like we would run out of money fairly quickly, and pols wouldn’t be able to prioritize based on “the will of scientists.” I guess they’d have to go back to the will of the constituents.

Resolutions seem to be like bills only perhaps less specific and more exhortatory.
Here’s the resolution itself (many interesting elements) including:

Whereas the existing protections for land, the ocean, and wildlife in the United States are not sufficient to prevent a further decline of nature in the United States, with—
(1) only 12 percent of the land area in the United States permanently protected, mostly in Alaska and the West; and
(2) only 26 percent of Federal ocean territory permanently protected, the vast majority of which is in the remote western Pacific Ocean or northwestern Hawaii;

Note the introduction of “permanent” protections, perhaps this is a reason for the difference between the IUCN percentage in the map above. Or perhaps other definitions?

Where does the 12% come from and how did they define it? It’s the IUCN number, apparently and also it comes from a 2018 study by the Center for American Progress. They did a pretty good job of explaining how they came up with the numbers. Still, it seems to me that there is a lack of clarity around what’s in and out, and why, and particularly what I’ll call “chunkifying.” Here’s an example of “chunkifying”:

The United States is unique in that it is the only country of the three largest North American countries to show a net loss in overall protected area in any year. The Trump administration’s 2017 cuts in protections for the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments—which reduced their size by 50 percent and 85 percent, respectively—affected slightly less than 2 million acres of land and, as such, represents the largest reduction in protected areas in the nation’s history.

I guess the idea is that for the slightly less than 2 mill, it has changed from “nothing could happen except what the Monument allowed” to “some things could happen in some places”, e.g. mines where there is uranium, or wind turbines where there is wind. But does it make sense to write off the whole 2 mill because some things might happen? Critters don’t respond to intentions, just to physical changes on the landscape.

The Methods section of the 2018 CAP study is detailed with all the relevant datasets and caveats. I thought it was interesting that CAP added:
“National Forests – National Forest System lands in the United States without wilderness or inventoried roadless area designations have also been omitted from the WDPA dataset.(reference 53) However, CAP felt that they merited inclusion given their land management plans, so those designations were added using the USGS PAD-US data.” My italics. Another “useful things plans do” to add to Jon’s list.

But why were NF’s out of the IUCN/WDPA maps in the first place? It appears because NF’s allow ski areas. On TSW we spend much time discussing the pros and cons of different uses allowed on NFs and BLM that people disagree about. It seems weird to me that ski areas would be singled out by the folks at IUCN. But they have to figure out all the countries, so I understand how hard that would be.. still, if their maps don’t do a very good job as measured against the real world, or their lines don’t really mean anything, it’s not that helpful. It’s also an example of chunkifying in the sense that NFs don’t count as a whole due to ski areas as a possible use (or that’s what the folks at IUCN were thinking).

But if the FS counts as protected, then why not BLM? And if BLM counts as protected, then there wasn’t really an increase in protected areas with Monumentizing nor a decrease with deMonumentizing.

It should be noted that National Parks, which are defined as protected areas by IUCN, including heavily used ones like the Great Smokies (dealing with overcrowding and resource damage as discussed in this recent news article) or Yosemite, or Yellowstone, are equally not chunkified.. so the acres around Old Faithful counts as protected.

So besides varying approaches to chunkification, these definitions seem to be vague about recreation impacts, and it’s hard to see that there’s not some tension between these goals and building out wind and solar infrastructure. Certainly in a resolution it’s easy to simply say “leaving land alone is therefore good for climate change” but it’s more complicated than that. If we were minimizing carbon and spatial footprints here, proponents would be nuclear advocates, and I’m not sure those groups are.

Here’s a link to the IUCN protected area categories, including national parks (note the emphasis on intention as opposed to physical realities). Perhaps of more interest is the IUCN category of protected area VI, which sounds like national forests.

Category VI: Protected area with sustainable use of natural resources
Protected areas that conserve ecosystems and habitats, together with associated cultural values and traditional natural resource management systems. They are generally large, with most of the area in a natural condition, where a proportion is under sustainable natural resource management and where low-level non-industrial use of natural resources compatible with nature conservation is seen as one of the main aims of the area.

. Note the language is “One of the main aims”, not “where other things are never allowed.” It seems to me that there is a latitude for interpretation.

9 thoughts on “30 x 30 From Abstract to the Real World: II. The Congressional Resolution, Definitions and Chunkification in Mapping”

  1. I’ve often had some of the same questions about maps of “protected lands,” so thanks for digging into this (which often do include entire national forests). I think the categories answer the question of “protected from what” that you asked yesterday. In particular, Category VI is the least protected, and it doesn’t allow levels of non-industrial use that are incompatible with nature conservation. A key question would be the definitions of “industrial use” and “nature conservation.” Assuming that industrial use doesn’t include vegetation management, and nature conservation means ecosystem sustainability, then I would agree that most parts of national forests (and other federal lands) could be included based on their (legally binding) land management plans.

    To your point about costs, protecting public lands through forest planning would be about the cheapest way to add acreage (if it’s not already included). And I don’t think they should count “lands that nobody wants” as “protected;” if nobody wants them, nobody should mind giving them some kind of protected designation.

  2. This is what the “Colorado Pathways to 30×30” explainer by Conservation Colorado and Western Resource Advocates says on what is protected: “DEFINING PROTECTED LAND How should we define protected land and water to reach the goal of 30 percent of lands protected by 2030? It is clear that permanent designations such as wilderness or national parks should be considered protected. But what about long-term protections by federal agencies that are achieved through a land use plan or a federal rulemaking? What about conservation easements on private lands? What about state parks and wildlife areas, or county parks and open spaces? One way to calculate existing protected lands is to follow the classification system developed by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Protected Area Database (PAD-US) and its Gap Analysis Project (GAP).23 This report treats GAP status codes of 1 and 2 as protected, because they both denote a management that either prohibits or minimizes disturbances to natural systems. This is the methodology employed to estimate that 10 percent of lands in Colorado are already protected. This estimate of protected lands has limitations. One limitation with USGS definitions is that some exceptions ought to be made to include lands that are protectively managed, but not always reflected as such in the PAD-US data, such as state wildlife areas, and some parks and open spaces. Additionally, there are many policy-level tools that would help protect nature, but would be more difficult to quantify in terms of acres protected. These include, for example, state-level reforms of oil and gas drilling regulations, as well as national tools such as creating a carbon budget for public lands management. Some protections will be bestowed by legislative bodies, and some by agencies or executive actions, and some by private landowners and NGOs. And some will be in perpetuity, while others may be durable for the life of a land use plan. Protecting 30 percent of Colorado’s lands by 2030 will require a variety of approaches and creative solutions. But this expansive view of conservation will help engage more people and build support at all levels of government through community-driven and ground-up efforts. While national and state-level tools get the most attention, community buy-in and grassroots support assures the right set of policies and protections are applied and have political durability. It bears repeating the inclusion of people of color and tribal nations is critical to achieving an equitable and just 30×30 conservation goal.”

    • “One way to calculate existing protected lands is to follow the classification system developed by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Protected Area Database (PAD-US) and its Gap Analysis Project (GAP).23 This report treats GAP status codes of 1 and 2 as protected, because they both denote a management that either prohibits or minimizes disturbances to natural systems.”

      In fact, that is apparently THE way the Biden administration was looking at it, or at least the USDI. I don’t think any of the several posts here on 30 x 30 have made this connection, but the Interior Dept. fact sheet on the Executive Order actually has a link to this Protected Area Database, which it cites for the 12% current figure. If that is just status 1-2, it would exclude national forests and BLM lands that are not wilderness. (But the report due in April could recommend something else.)

      • Jon, I think Patrick Mackay mentioned using the PAD as well. My question at the time was why “using the PAD” wasn’t open to public input and comment. Maybe there will be opportunities later.

  3. Here’s one proposal for national forests: https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/02/19/the-30-x-30-protection-plan-and-the-george-washington-national-forest-ark/

    “As home to much of the nation’s best wildlife habitat, safeguarding the ecological integrity of these wildlands and their wildlife populations should be the highest priority for federal management. Our National Forests still have the potential for providing landscape-scale real protection. By protection, I mean minimizing human activity in order to allow for “as natural a state as possible”. This approach is termed proforestation, letting standing forests grow and develop in complexity to their natural old growth state; such restoration is also the most effective way to counter climate change. At present, however, most Forest lands are open to various forms of commercial exploitation and extraction, such as logging, drilling, and grazing.”

    • Sounds more like ‘Let Whatever Happens, happen’.

      Again, there are many land designations (and conditions) which eliminate the logging option. Just because some lands are ‘open to logging’, that doesn’t mean the parcel will get logged. This sounds a lot like ‘slippery slope whataboutism’. One should always refer to the “purpose and need” part of the plans and don’t lump all forms of “logging” together, labeled as “exploitation”.

    • But who gets to define “ protected”? From mountain bikes? From wind turbines? From prescribed burning? Unless we can agree on what “protected” means, we can’t determine how much is protected.. nor why it needs to be.


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